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For Release: Thursday, October 3, 2019

DEC Announces Grand Opening of New Upper Esopus Fire Tower at Maurice D. Hinchey Catskills Visitor Center

Supports Governor Cuomo's Adventure NY Initiative to Connect New Yorkers with the Outdoors

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Basil Seggos today announced the opening of the new Upper Esopus Fire Tower at the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskills Visitor Center (CVC) in Mt. Tremper, NY. The completion of the project was announced during a formal ribbon cutting ceremony led by DEC Regional Director Kelly Turturro. The new addition to the CVC supports Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's Adventure NY initiative to connect more New Yorkers with the outdoors.

Commissioner Seggos said, "The new Upper Esopus Fire Tower provides another exciting dimension to the Catskills Visitor Center, enabling visitors to experience an outstanding view of the Catskill Mountains. The Fire Tower adds to the Catskills' many gems, and will inspire more New Yorkers to get out and explore this region and experience all that the Catskill Park had to offer."

Located in Ulster County, the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskills Visitor Center serves as a gateway for outdoor enthusiasts to learn about the Catskill Park's opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. The center showcases the Catskills' natural resources and recreational opportunities with information about the 700,000-acre Catskill Park, New York City's one million-acre Catskill/Delaware drinking watershed, and ways to recreate and enjoy these treasured natural resources.

Repurposing an Historic Fire Tower

In 2019, DEC awarded $286,665 for the construction of a historic-style fire tower at the CVC to add to its amenities. The fire tower will offer an introductory fire tower experience to visitors to the Catskills, providing an unencumbered view of the Upper Esopus Valley and surrounding Catskill Mountains. In addition, the fire tower allows visitors who may not otherwise be able to undertake the challenging hike of several miles to experience a fire tower on the high peaks in the Catskills.

The fire tower is an 80-foot AERMOTOR MC-39, first installed in Venice, Florida, and weighs 18,000 pounds and stands 92 feet high from the ground to the peak of the cab. The tower was recently completed by Dave Vana of Davana LLC, Fire Tower Restoration, of Bloomingdale, New York. Vana purchased the tower in Florida, dismantled it, and transported it to New York, where he reconditioned it, replaced necessary parts, and galvanized the entire structure. The tower will include a map table with an alidade, a pointer used to determine direction by observers locating wild fires from the cab of the tower. In addition, DEC staff constructed a nature trail around the tower and a kiosk with information about all of the Catskill Fire Towers at the base of the tower.

For nearly a century, observers watched the forests of New York State from more than 100 fire towers perched atop the highest peaks, searching for the dangerous, telltale signs of fire. There were 19 fire towers in the Catskill region and 52 in the Adirondacks. Beginning in the 1980s, the State of New York began to phase out the use of fire towers for spotting forest fires, and in 1990, the last five towers still in operation were closed.

Fire Tower Volunteers

Across the state grassroots, volunteer-based initiatives formed to save the fire towers. These initiatives recognized that the towers represent New York's history and heritage of forest protection and are also a resource with tourism potential. The Upper Esopus Fire tower represents a legacy of DEC Forest Rangers and fire towers throughout the Catskills and New York State.

The Catskill Center's Catskill Fire Tower Project volunteers, under a Volunteer Stewardship Agreement with DEC, help to maintain, support, and advocate for the Catskill Fire Towers are invaluable in helping to keep the Catskill Fire Tower tradition alive in New York State and enhancing the visitor experience. Volunteers staff the towers on weekends throughout the summer and fall, opening the cab and interpreting the view from the tower.

"The opening of the Upper Esopus Fire Tower at the Catskills Visitor Center represents the continued growth of the Visitor Center as the gateway to our beautiful Catskill Park and Catskills region," said Jeff Senterman, Catskill Center Executive Director. "The addition of the Fire Tower, along with our existing visitor resources on the site will only help make the Visitor Center an even more popular destination for visitors to and residents of the Catskills! We're very excited for continued improvements to the Visitor Center and for the unique partnership between the Catskill Center and the NYS Department of Environmental Protection that has helped the Visitor Center thrive and grow."

New Yorkers are reminded that the Catskills Fire Tower Five Challenge continues through the end of the year. Visitors who climb all five public towers in the Catskill Park, take a selfie at each tower at the designated sign, and submit their photos have a chance to win special prizes. While the Upper Esopus Fire Tower is not part of the challenge, it provides a great introduction to this exciting way to experience the Catskills.

Under Governor Cuomo's Adventure NY initiative, DEC is making strategic investments to expand access to healthy, active outdoor recreation, connect more New Yorkers and visitors to nature and the outdoors, protect natural resources, and boost local economies. This initiative is supporting the completion of more than 75 projects ranging from improvements to youth camps and environmental education centers to new boat launches, duck blinds, and hiking trails. Read more about the Adventure NY initiative.

For more information on the Catskill Forest Preserve, including park maps, guides and links to the CVC, visit DEC's website.

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    21 South Putt Corners Road
    New Paltz, NY 12561
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